A Modern Way to Improve Food Services

What’s the first thing you picture when you hear the words “campus dining?” For many, the answer is long line-ups and bland food.

Fortunately, these stereotypes aren’t always accurate. At many universities and corporate campuses, food services is evolving to meet new expectations. Decision-makers are recognizing the value of ensuring that food options, dining environments, and service delivery methods align with each person’s preferences.

This shift represents an investment in the health and wellbeing of diners. And it’s designed to keep people coming back - satisfied and engaged.

To create food services that are highly desirable requires decisions to be made on hard data. While managers must ensure the operations are highly efficient and cost-effective. Point-of-sale data, surveys and visual observations get us part of the way there, but with the trend toward free-food services at corporate campuses, the data today is limited at best.

Luckily, there’s now a solution. Understanding traffic patterns using indoor location and mapping technology provides unprecedented insights that enable management to not only keep costs down, but improve the overall dining experience.


Dining Experiences Matter

At a time when university populations are characterized by an increase in mental health issues and financial stress, high-quality dining experiences contribute positively to the health and wellbeing of students. In turn, students are able to perform at their best academically.

On corporate campuses, work-related pressures often run high. Food services can help by offering workers an opportunity to decompress during the day. That’s good news for companies, since there’s ample evidence to suggest that happy employees are more productive employees.

In both campus environments, diners are best served in spaces where they can relax, socialize, and choose from a variety of nutritious foods that meet their preferences. Providing these experiences means dining services departments must meet a growing set of expectations.

Cultural diversity is increasing the demand for foods from around the world. Other important considerations include the prevalence of allergies and dietary restrictions, along with food-related trends such as plant-based diets and the desire for locally-sourced ingredients.

There’s also growing interest in the social and experiential aspects of dining, driven in part by brands like Starbucks.

Some campuses are doing a great job of meeting these expectations. Portland State University (PSU) is a good example.

PSU recently implemented major changes to its food services, including a diverse and locally-focused food selection as well as more stimulating dining spaces. One menu even changes based on student voting and feedback.

On the corporate side, Google stands out. The company provides on-campus employees with an incredible selection of gourmet foods, innovative delivery methods (including “micro kitchens” that provide snacks), and a system that integrates employee feedback for constant improvement.

Campuses and retail spaces should strive to meet high standards when it comes to food services. That said, initiating the changes necessary to do so is no easy task.  


Monumental Challenges

Unfortunately, dining experiences are frequently marked by long lineups, ordering confusion, undesirable food choices, and overall feelings of dissatisfaction.

Usually, the biggest obstacle for decision-makers in addressing this feedback is a lack of reliable data on which to base improvements.

Let’s say you’re the manager of operations for food services at a university. It goes without saying that you want students to keep coming back—and not just because they need to eat. You also need to operate profitably.

Trying to make improvements based on best guesses can backfire. Often, the result is a series of changes that shrink your budget—without making the dining experience any better.

Before changes are even implemented, most food services providers struggle to contain unnecessary costs. Poor staffing for cleaning and food services is one of the biggest.

The good news is, there’s a new way to optimize the dining experience, deploy staff more effectively, and maximize profitability. Indoor mapping and location technology has the power to completely transform this improvement process.


The key: indoor mapping & location technology

Indoor maps and location offer actionable information. Until very recently, there were no comprehensive and cost-effective solutions to provide this data.  

Maps of indoor spaces were static, which meant they didn’t reflect environmental changes. GPS still doesn’t penetrate indoors, and WiFi access points alone don’t provide reliable location data.

Tech giants like Apple and Google have yet to solve these challenges, but InnerSpace has found a solution. Our sensor creates 3D maps and (using advanced positioning technology) highly-accurate locations of students and staff—all in real-time.  

For our food services clients, our dashboard provides key metrics and insights, real-time activity heat maps, and traffic data. Clients can define zones (seating, POS, grab & go) to drill down into the areas that are performing well, how long people wait in line, and better understand the behavior of new versus returning customers.

We also offer an intuitive API, which developers can use to create apps that enable pre-ordering, digital payment, student reviewing and satisfaction scoring, and more.

When it all comes together, decision-makers are in a far better position to optimize their services and staff deployment. Here’s how

Optimization that gets results

Imagine viewing accurate line counts (along with other key metrics) on an intuitive electronic dashboard. Let’s say you also have access to real time activity heat maps, which help you understand where people are spending their time within your dining spaces.

With this information, food preferences are visualized.  You can recognize the need to replace an underperforming buffet-style salad bar. If the smaller build-your-own burrito station is extremely popular, you can choose to extend it into this space.

The insights provided by line counts and heat maps also allow you to improve the placement of food stations and point of sale locations. You can also spot and remove any traffic impediments.

Metrics such as return-customer rates and average dwell times provide critical insights into diners’ preferences. As a result, you can quantify customer retention and loyalty, reward return customers, and further tailor customer experiences.

By commissioning the creation of experiencing-enhancing apps, you could increase sales opportunities and make dining more convenient. Digital recommendations and ordering/payment options are just a couple of examples.

Last but certainly not least, 3D maps, accurate location, and traffic data could all improve staff deployment. Management better understands changing class schedules and can staff up appropriately. When leveraging this data to optimize cleaning and food services staff, the cost-savings can be substantial.


The bottom line

Using indoor mapping and location technology to quantify the overall behavior of the people in your space, provides a trifecta of data:

  • Optimize the customer experience: Shorten lines, improve dining choices.

  • Tailor labor to the needs of the customer: Adjust schedules based on traffic, proactively address customer needs.

  • Retain and upsell: Increase customer engagement and value-added services.

These examples above are just the tip of the iceberg. Indoor mapping and location technology provides nearly unlimited opportunities to implement improvements to food services.

Decision-makers can constantly test new foods, layouts, and delivery methods. Comparing locations across a campus or food court allows management to provide services that are both high-quality and consistent.

In an increasingly competitive landscape, university and corporate campuses can set themselves apart by using food services as a key differentiator.